- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

RICHMOND — Surrounded by photographs of Hurricane Isabel slamming into the Atlantic coast, President Bush yesterday offered federal help to states that took the worst hits from the storm.

“The true character of this country comes out in times of stress and emergency. This country has responded once again,” Mr. Bush said Monday at the Virginia State Police Academy to a room filled with more than 250 emergency relief workers from 12 federal agencies who coordinated recovery efforts in the state.

“On behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank people at all levels of our government for working extra hard to help our country when it needed help,” Mr. Bush said.

He told the workers, “You’ve done your state proud.”

Earlier, Mr. Bush talked to governors from several states during a video conference briefing. “If you need equipment, let us know,” he said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials showed the president a brief slide presentation of pictures showing Isabel five days before landfall and how it tracked across the mid-Atlantic region.

Isabel ravaged nine states and the District on Thursday, leaving more than a million people without power and at least 35 dead.

Tom Ridge, secretary of the Homeland Security Department, said his agency has worked with state officials to coordinate the relief effort to “restore the hope and vitality to communities affected.”

Both Mr. Ridge and Mr. Bush talked to governors during the video conference briefing. “Mother Nature threw some terror at you,” Mr. Ridge told the governors.

Mr. Bush said he would honor Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s request to expand the state’s emergency declarations to 43 additional jurisdictions. Mr. Bush said he would also consider such requests from other states.

Several governors gave Mr. Bush updates on power outages and other problems that remain in the aftermath of the hurricane.

North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley said 42 of 100 counties are in a state of emergency and 90,000 residents remain without power, down from 700,000 after the storm hit.

“The main thing we need — the MREs [military Meals Ready to Eat] are very important,” Mr. Easley said to the president on the phone. “The MREs, the ice, if you could keep those coming.”

In Washington, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, said yesterday that he expected the storm to eventually cost the federal government billions of dollars.

Mr. Stevens said Isabel was “the most major storm we’ve seen in recent history in terms of damage.” He said he had no monetary figure and noted that preliminary damage estimates are still being calculated.

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